Stewarding Grace

We are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. Our lives are a journey of discovery. “Who am I?” is a question we’re consistently asking and this leaves us searching for our identity wherever it might be found.

When we stop and think about it we find that circumstances are perfect for us to adopt our gifts as our identity and to forget that we did nothing to merit them. But the gifts we’ve received are what God has called us to use to serve Him and to serve one another, not tell us who we are. 1 Peter 4 tells us they are a reflection of God’s multi- faceted grace. When we steward our gifts we are stewarding grace.

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As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Peter 4:10 & 11

Because it’s so hard to determine sometimes where our gifts end and we begin it’s intensely personal to offer our gifts back to the One who entrusted them to us, as if to say, “These gifts are not my identity. My identity is found in You alone. You are the One who gives me value and worth. Therefore the grace I’ve receive is the grace I’ll extend with everything I have, with every gift You’ve given.”

Here are some signs that you’ve surrendered your gifts to the Gift-giver:

1. You’re happy for the success of others in your area of giftedness.

In other words, the success of others doesn’t intimidate you. It’s understandable to feel a tinge of frustration when you see people move ahead and you seem to be standing still, but reminding yourself Who you’re doing this for should realign your heart to the One who graciously gave you the gift in the first place.

2. You don’t dwell on past mistakes.

God has already seen where you’d fall short and He called you anyway. You have to give Him your failures and trust Him with them. He is the redeemer of every lost opportunity and every missed chance if we will let Him be.

3. You can surrender your idea of what using your gift means.

Our culture paints a very specific picture of what using our talents is supposed to look like and it has snuck it’s way into the church. Do you trust God enough to let Him lead you down whatever path He chooses, whether it looks like what you envisioned or not? We sometimes put a ceiling on how far God can take us because we think it needs to look a certain way.

4. You steward your gift faithfully no matter what.

Whether you’re having an opportunity to use your gift publicly or not, if God gave it to you He is telling you to steward it. You steward that gift for Him because He is ultimately the One you serve.

5. Jesus is enough.

If everything changed tomorrow and by the world’s standards you had amazing success, if God asked you to, would you leave it all behind because Jesus is enough? If you were called to disciple the people on the stage rather than be on the stage yourself would you do it because Jesus is enough? If God asked you to use your gift in a place where no one would ever know your name would you do it because Jesus is enough?

If you have a gift, use your gift. Walk it out in the fullest expression possible. God will make up where you lack because He’s to One who is glorified, even in our weakness. ALL the glory belongs to Him. He invites us to be partakers in that glory but not for one second are we intended to try to take it for ourselves. When we find ourselves deceived into thinking this might all be about us, the Holy Spirit mercifully reveals that no amount of achievement or notoriety will bring the kind of satisfaction that offering our gifts back to God could ever bring.

The satisfaction we all long for is found in the Gift-giver, not the gift itself.

You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
— Psalm 145:16
 

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Ministry: It's Not What I Thought

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…
— Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV

Too many frustrated conversations to count. 

Conversations with people who felt called to ministry but were disillusioned when it wasn’t happening the way they had imagined.

Photo Credit:  Ales Krivec

Photo Credit: Ales Krivec

They believed what I believed - that for people who were passionate about Jesus, ministry would be the acceptable way to achieve success, maybe even their own version of fame. 

I’m ashamed to admit that for the majority of my life I thought ministry was about the person who was standing on the platform with a microphone in their hand. 

It was about being known by your own little world and being admired. 

I want this to be clear; there is never a moment where I feel more like I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do than when I’m communicating the Truth that the world needs to hear so badly. But in the last five years or so, by the grace of God, I’ve also come to wholeheartedly believe this: no one needs to know my name. 

If you’ve followed WeAreTheVigilant for any period of time, you’ve seen me hash out this internal struggle over and over. You probably didn’t notice it, but the battle that went on inside me is woven into everything I’ve ever written.

Ministry is not about being known.

I am ALREADY known.

You are ALREADY known.

We are known by the only One who matters.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.      
— 1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV

This begs the question: What is ministry?

  • Ministry is admitting your brokenness, your need for a Savior to a broken world that also needs a Savior.
  • Ministry is acknowledging God’s incredible mercy and receiving His grace.
  • Ministry is asking for forgiveness, not pretending like it didn't happen.
  • Ministry is yielding to the deep work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ministry is the willingness to be uncomfortable.
  • It is the divine cooperation between you and a Holy God that happens for the good of everyone that comes into contact with someone who has experienced redemption.

God has given us gifts and He has called us for one reason: to bring glory to Himself so that people would turn to Him. The idea that we would have any part of that makes me want to get on my face and weep out of gratitude.

Have you ever wanted to say, “If I can’t do this the right way then I won’t do it at all”?

Me too.

And if God rolls His eyes, I’m the most worthy recipient of said eye roll.

We take a pre-emptive strike on the call because deep down we really think that somehow this is still all about us.

A divine commission either is or it isn’t. Within the context of Jesus’ command to make disciples is there ever a moment that you shouldn't endeavor to make that command a reality? Even if it’s not in the way that you imagined?

If there is a glimmer of a chance that your participation in the great commission would draw even one person closer to the heart of God is that not a risk worth taking? Whether the context is behind a pulpit, faithfully serving your community, leading a small group, adopting a child, or late night conversations on the phone with a struggling friend, it’s all ministry.

If He gave you a specific talent or ability He has every intention of using those gifts to draw people to Himself. Where we so often get tied up is the desire to be recognized for the gifts we have merely received.  

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
— 1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

Sometimes we find ourselves at a standstill because we know that in order to move forward we have to lose all semblance of control. I don’t care who you are, that’s scary. But ultimately, I think the biggest lesson we need to learn is how to get out of our own way because “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die"*.

As disciples, the call is dying to self.

As ministers, we must lead the way in this death. Only on the other side does a truly abundant life exist and we cannot show others the way when we have not yet been there ourselves.

 

 

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

 

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Fragile

Since you have purified your souls by obedience to the truth, so that you have a genuine love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from a pure heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field;the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

And this is the word that was proclaimed to you.
— 1 Peter 1:22-25
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It hits me like a wave. That feeling of weightiness that goes something like this: 

This is your life. Don’t waste it. 

Your life on this earth has a beginning and it has an end and if you’re reading this right now you’re right smack in the middle of it. 

There was a point this week where I felt like I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. Not because I was breaking any rules or using stealthy ninja skills that we all know I don’t have. But because I, in and of myself, did not feel like I deserved it.

It was one of those moments that was bigger than me. Has that ever happened to you? Where you find yourself in the middle of a situation you know only the grace of God achieved. I just keep thinking, "Why, God? Why?" 

Why would He do this for me? Why would He choose me for this? And then, why would He choose me for what's to come? Because if this moment is blowing me away I can't even fathom what He's got up His sleeve for me next. 

There are always two things I feel in moments like those: fragility and gratitude. 

Fragility because life is a vapor and sometimes we get glimpses of how exposed we really are. 

Gratitude because I know that I am fragile but I am also deeply and intimately cared for by a sovereign Father God who holds me together by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

The same eternal word that stands forever is the same word that holds together my fragile life. 

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I want to encourage you to do things that feel risky for a cause that is bigger than you. You know why you can? Because you are loved. You are completely loved by the Creator of the Universe. Everything that’s of worth is found in Him and guess where we, as Christ followers, reside? In Him. (Colossians 2:10

I don’t fully understand the nuances of this union. What I know is that it is so, and it is beautiful. And realizing that we belong to Him releases within us a freedom to feel the weight of our fragility and the immense gratitude that comes along with it. 

Our only other option is fear.

But ultimately, aren't most of our fears just our excuses? Let’s just admit that when we say we're afraid what we're really saying is we value whatever we’re afraid of losing over whatever God has called us to do. Be it status, title, or material possessions, if our identity is not secure in who we are loved by and found in, then our identity will be wrapped up in lesser, more fallible things. 

My prayer lately has been, “Let my life have a far greater impact for your glory than it ever could by living on my own terms”. 

God can exponentially increase the impact of our lives for His Kingdom. But we can’t do it ruled by fear. 

We are complete and secure in Him and we have to live from that place, because then and only then will we experience the freedom to LOVE with authenticity and SERVE with sincerity - not preoccupied by who sees us or what anyone thinks of us. 

That’s the kind of thing that draws people to Jesus. And that's why we're here. 

 

 

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State of Mind: Managing the Madness in Your Head

"In the beginning God created..."

It's a familiar story. But what I want to know is if there was no one else around to hear God as He was creating the Earth, then who was He talking to?

My best, educated guess is that He was talking to Himself. The way I see it, if God can talk to Himself then you and I can too. 

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I'll be the first to admit, I talk to myself all of the time. In the car, in the shower, when I'm working, mowing the lawn, etc. I live a healthy portion of every day in my head. And as someone who has struggled with social anxieties and even depression, I can tell you that learning to manage the madness in your head is a skill worth mastering. 

Chances are, you talk to yourself too. Come on, now...you know it's true. I'm willing to bet that your brain is always turning. And there's a few of you reading this who never stop. The conversations in your head are constant. 

(Alright, before we get weird on each other, let's dig a little deeper.)

It's a healthy personal practice to make declarations over yourself. I'd venture to say that you, like most people, have an "inner coach" who is constantly scanning, reasoning, encouraging, and criticizing what you do. 

But at what point do you draw the line on your internal dialogue? 

Can you take it too far? And if so, how can you make your way back?


Let's not beat around the bush, there's a point where you can fixate over your issues so much that eventually, you are all you care about. 

When you glorify your condition to the degree of leaving God out along with anyone else it turns into idolatry (and by idolatry, we're talking "self worship").

But before things drift to this extreme, there's a few ways you can safeguard your heart in hopes to maintain a healthier internal dialogue. 

 

1.) Me-Against-the-World

Remember those moments where you looked at yourself and thought, "It's just me. I'm the only one. No one else feels this way and no one else has ever been here before." 

Feeling separated and isolated is hard to combat. Culture advocates for self sufficiency. We pride ourselves in doing it on our own. But is this really a good thing? 

You're wired to be social. As you're reading this, I guarantee you have at least 1-3 social media accounts. Your need for others is inherent. It's built in; designed by God. 

When you isolate yourself, you are pulling away from the fabric of love and encouragement meant to be found through others. The conduit for God's love is people. People are part of His design in how He chooses to express His love.  

Community is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.     [ <– Read that again, bruh. ]

You need other people in your life to remain emotionally, mentally, & spiritually stable. God has given the local church to build this familial element into your life. (Small groups are great too, as they provide community on even a more intimate scale).  

The closeness is good. It helps to vent and to stay transparent and honest with yourself. But most importantly, it will help you to give and receive love.

A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.
— King Solomon [Proverrbs 18:1]

Action Step 1 -

Don't divide or separate yourself. Instead, plug in. Meet with friends. Invite people over. Join a small group (if possible) or grab friends for coffee. You need people and people need you. Whatever you choose, commit to making these connections on a weekly basis. 

 

 

2.) No Good for Nuthin'

Your internal boss is all over you. You're critical of yourself in a way that you should not be. 

When you reach this state of mind, it’s time to pull the plug. You need to fire your internal boss and restructure how you speak to yourself. 

Self-speak is a very real thing. If you’re not speaking to yourself in the manner like God’s word does, then your words are out of place. 

So, how should you talk to yourself? 

 Here’s what God’s Word says about you... 

God Says You are:

 

[Side Note: Yes, more than encourage, God also corrects. In His word, God makes many declarations about the state of man to correct his steps and ultimately lead those living in a fallen, sinful state back to Him (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; John 14:6, Romans 10:8-10). But please understand, that even when God rebukes, it's because His desire to correct is charged by His love. Even in discipline, God shows us mercy and grace.]

 

Action Step 2 -

Be extra vigilant to re-calibrate your heart each and every day. Time alone with God is crucial. Use His word to declare His value over your life. Scripture is good medicine (Proverbs 16:24), for all moments, not just in the down times.  Dig into the scriptures when and before you feel yourself starting to drift. 

 

 

3.) The Bleak Numbness

It’s not that you feel too much, but that you don’t feel anything at all. 

The numbness has set in and you’re not sure what to feel. Apathy is a sure sign that you’re overwhelmed. Too much stimuli or maybe it’s been a lack of intentionally pursuing the relationships in your life. Either way, you have to battle back. As hard as it is to admit, this is a place that I have been far too familiar with. I can tell you first hand that If you choose to live here, then you're going down with the ship. 

It's sad to see people in this state because it quickly becomes such a lonely place. There's no room for anyone else here. Your friends, spouse, kids...no one else can stay here because it's all about you. You're stuck in an emotionally-pressed state. The challenge with emotions is that they are quickly subject to change, so while they can enhance an experience, you should never allow them to become the framework for making decisions. Emotions will stop your motion if you let them. 

 

Action Step 3 -

Stop what you're doing (even this very moment). Pray. Repent. And run as hard as you can in the opposite direction. Mentally and emotionally, look to insert yourself right back into the last place where you had peace and were able to hear God's voice clearly (Isaiah 26:3). When you reconnect with that state-of-mind, start moving forward. But as you push forward, keep your focus on the needs around you rather than your own. The purpose here is to build healthy habits over poor ones. Instead of fixating on self, focus on serving others. The more intently you focus on meeting the needs of others, the less you will be consumed with your own (Hebrews 10:24). 

 

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Conquering Worry

I’m gonna get straight to the point because we all do it. 

We worry. 

Worry, however, is a deception, since it never really solves any problems, it only appears to. 

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The Common Ways of Worry

Most worry creeps in because we lack the faith that God is able to perform what He says He will. 

He says He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). But, in our lack of trust, we become mentally preoccupied with where we have failed to believe God. And in the failure of that trust, we simultaneously enlist ourselves as ambassadors of our own problems. 

What I mean is, when we worry, we take our problems on all by ourselves. We own them. Only, they actually end up owning us, because let’s be honest, action and worry are really two separate things. Its not like saying, “Oh, I need some eggs.” So, you go to the store and buy some eggs. Or to say, “Hey, someone left the water running.” So, you turn it off. No, worry stems from that powerless feeling you get when you wish you could prevent something bad from happening. Now, there’s no guarantee that this bad thing will happen. Like getting struck by lightning (the odds of which are 1 in 700,000), it will probably never happen. But for some, just knowing that the possibility exist is enough. 

Despite the fact that this issue can or will likely have any effect on you, the mental preoccupation remains. This is worry. It’s pretending to solve a matter by asserting effort towards a problem that ultimately, you can’t do anything about. I wish I could ____________________, you might say, but you can’t. So, you worry. 

Worry is feigned control. 

You imagine that you’re accomplishing something on behalf of the problem you’re concerned for, when in fact, you’re actually doing nothing. You’re worrying. Sure, you can pretend that your in control, but if you really were, you wouldn’t be worrying would you? 

And now, the problem is yours in it’s entirety. You’re consumed and eaten up by a hypothetical world of “what ifs” and maybes. You’re drowned by a ceaseless slurry of thoughts that give credence to situations which will probably never happen. “What if my child marries the wrong person?” a parent might say. “What if my dad loses his job? What will my family do?” a kid might say. “What will we eat? Where will we live? How will we manage?” 

So, the pattern continues in an endless, onslaught of slamming thoughts, envisioning whatever self-conjured hell might come raining down on you at any any moment. 

 

Want the Truth?

Worry is stupid.

No, really. It’s a mental deposit on a problem that doesn’t presently exist. 

Worse yet, worry is predicated upon fear, motivated by the potential for loss.

 

And yes, I’ll say it again, this fear of loss stems from a lack of trust in God. 

When you worry, you fail to trust that God is as capable to care for you as He says He is. 

But remember, just because the potential exist for something to happen, doesn’t mean it’s actually happened. When you give power to hypothetical situations, you’re actually surrendering your control to everything THAT HASN’T HAPPENED. There’s a greater likelihood that it won’t ever happen. 

In fact, in the menagerie of everything that could happen, only one thing is actually going to take place. 

And whether you can or can’t control it, it’s most likely beyond your control anyway.

When you make yourself the solver of all of your own problems, you’re saying “I’m in control. I can manage it. I can solve this and I intend to do this all by myself.” 

You’re stepping into pride…and pride is sin. 

Well, how do you like that? 

You’ve put yourself in the driver's seat to solve what you know you can’t, and now it’s eating at you from the inside out like some proper disease of the mind. Meaning to resolve the matter, you’ve fallen into sin in the process. 

 

Helping Your Worry

“But all I wanted to do was help,” you might say.

If REALLY want to help yourself, learn to pray. 

Seriously, that’s the solution?

Trust God. Have faith. He is supreme. He is greater than your problem. And you can start, by offering the situation to Him. 

God isn’t asking you to battle the cares of this world on your own. He commands that we surrender our worries to Him.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care (anxiety) upon Him, for He cares for you.
— 1 Peter 5:6-7
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
— Matthew 11:28-29
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
— Matthew 6:25-34

Imagine a stack of paper and that each piece of paper in that stack is like a thought in your head. 

With each piece, you have one of two options: you can keep the piece of paper or you can assign it a new owner. 

If you keep it, it’s yours to own. Do with it what you will, but it’s there. It’s yours. 

Give it away and you’ve freed up some space. 

Your thought life is much the same. 

Your brain is full of thoughts…good, bad, and everything in between. 

You’re free to choose and think on whatever you like, but eventually, your brain is gonna start to feel full. 

Prayer is the opportunity to sign over the right of each preoccupying thought in surrender to God. 

You have a choice: keep your worry or give it to God. 

Own your anxiety or lay it before Him. 

Survive with your apprehension or enjoy the freedom you’ve been granted. 

 

Because this worry…yeh, it’s killing you. 

And you, well, you’re making the rest of us miserable in the process. 

 

So, stop. Now.

 

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My Greatest Conflict: This One's for the Girls

There’s a fine balance.

Let’s take it back, all the way to the 6th grade.

Awkward was my middle name; being a tall, gangly, pre-pubescent was my game.

I was quiet. Too quiet. The boys thought I was cute and the girls could smell blood in the water. I wanted so desperately to fit in. But I didn’t know who I was, so I didn’t know where I fit. So, I got owned. Like all the time.  People made fun of me. People laughed at all my awkward and I probably helped a little too.

And then it happened. The switch flipped and that summer before going into 7th grade I said, “No more!” Slamming my fist on the table causing my milk to slosh onto my freshly toasted pastry strudel. 

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6 Ways to Seek Excellence and Grow Through It

6 Ways to Seek Excellence and Grow Through It

A few years ago my husband and I started attending a very large church that, to some, might seem to have it all together but I think they would be the first to admit they don’t.

We are so thankful for our time there. We learned so much and we got to rest and recover.

But some of the typical things that people encounter with larger churches were things that we found to be challenging, and at times frustrating.

  • It was hard sometimes to feel connected.
  • At times things felt a little too well rehearsed.
  • And we wondered if we were “cool” enough.

Shocking, I know.

I have a tattoo. Matt wears skinny jeans. What more could you want?

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If We Truly Are Vigilant...

If We Truly Are Vigilant...

Here we are. All of us together.

We have come to a point in history where we find that our desire to do good is thwarted by an acute case of self-obsession.

We are in slavery, our taskmaster, comfort. We dare not make way to the promised land knowing full well that between us and that place lies wilderness, lies difficulty, lies hardship.

Who am I to say such things?

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